The ability to maintain real-time online conversation alongside live spoken presentation is an ever-growing trend. Backchannel applications can help guide presentations by taking advantage of digital infrastructures that include wireless connectivity and devices.
To build on the success of our iKnow Application Suite, we decided in the summer of 2010 to build a backchannel application for use in the classroom. Our expectation was to create a way to capture "everything else" going on in a presentation that wasn't coming from the speaker. We also wanted to make it easy for participants to add to the conversation that goes on in the backchannel.
Contribute, launched August 23, 2011, takes collaboration beyond simple backchannel communication by providing moderators (or faculty) a rich set of features to enhance the participants' (students') experience in a presentation (classroom). In addition to the main backchannel "stream", Contribute also offers these tools (modules):
• Who's Online (quick view of all participants)
• Favorites (personal bookmarks of participant posts)
• Twitter (allows hashtag searches to supplement current session)
• Links (repository of all URLs posted)
• Word Cloud (presentation discuss tool)
• Polls (audience response system)
• Replies (display of all replies to user posts)
Participants can also "ditto" stream posts, embed links, files and images which create more meaningful, productive conversations in the backchannel.
In order to provide greater accessibility, we allow FHU account logins, Facebook account logins and Google logins. Users can also create a native Contribute account.
Contribute users can create their own backchannel session, send themselves archives of sessions they have participated in and it also allows users to use mobile devices to add to the conversation. Our application works well on any desktop, laptop, iPhone or iPad.
During the development of this application, our faculty were involved in providing feedback and offering valuable suggestions. Several of our modules can be attributed to our faculty involvement during the design and development process.
A.B. White, FHU instructional technologist, says this about Contribute:
"The simplicity of Contribute is what makes it a powerful engagement tool. Contribute enables participants to focus on the conversation, not the user interface. The tools that allow participants to examine the conversation and draw conclusions are simple to use as well. Above all, the application makes it easy to include a small group of individuals, a class of students or thousands of people located around the world in the conversation."
As with many of our applications, students were heavily involved in the development process. Lance Williams, senior computer science major, states:
"I feel that helping to develop this application allowed me to see how the courses I've taken in my career at Freed are truly useful. The experience has been tremendous for me in understanding the difference in homework and real-world work. I had to deal with harsher deadlines and tougher problems, while knowing that my work didn't only affect me but also the potential of this program and all it's future users. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of seeing through the design, development, testing, releasing and updating the app. It has been a great experience."
Contribute is an excellent example of the development that takes place at FHU. We strive to create emerging technologies that incorporate tenets of Web x.0 products that allow for collaboration and expanding of the learning experience.
Ethan Kershaw, web intern and avid Contribute user, sums up the development team's thoughts:
"I'm excited to see how Contribute will benefit students. I believe that having an outlet to collaborate with classmates will be a useful tool. While Contribute will be great for classroom and learning enhancement, it doesn't have to be limited to a classroom setting. Whatever your project, event or need be, you can use Contribute to organize your efforts."
What are you waiting for? Add to the conversation at http://contribute.fhu.edu.